by Ishmael Reed
This is the third black man as sexual predator and the second black incest film that Ms. Winfrey has either endorsed or performed in, yet, only a few titles by black male authors have been adopted by her book club. On Sunday, Nov. 23, during a phone interview with Keifer Bonvillin, author of Ruthless, an inside look at the Oprah operation, I asked him about her embrace of the black male as a sexual predator trope. He wrote:
Last year, I published ‘Ruthless’, (a true story based on conversations I had with Oprah Winfrey’s office manager). The book detailed the unfair treatment African American men received from Oprah Winfrey and the negative stereotypical images of African American men that Oprah sent out in her films. The office manager also gave me a rare glance of Oprah Winfrey’s private life.
This was the first time one of Oprah Winfrey’s employees spoke openly about her as they are prevented from doing so by strict confidentiality agreements. Oprah tried hard to block publication of the book. She and her attorney went so far as to have me arrested. The charges were dropped and the book was published.
Since the publication of ‘Ruthless,’ I noticed several profound changes in the way Oprah Winfrey is doing business.
1) Oprah produced ‘The Great Debaters,’ which was the first film produced by Harpo Films (in my opinion) to not have negative stereotypical images of black men.
2) This season, JayZ, became the first African American rap artist to perform on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
3) This season Oprah’s book club selection, ‘Say You’re One
of Them,’ was written by a black man, Liwem Akpan. This was the first time in years a black man who is not one of Oprah’s friends was featured in the book club.
I was very encouraged by what I was seeing. Then came ‘Precious!’ Like her addiction to food, Oprah does well for a little while but she just can’t help herself.
Another reason that Ms. Winfrey supports the film is because she endorses the policy points the movie makes about welfare recipients. Precious is encouraged to take a job as home care worker for $2.00 per hour. Throughout the movie, poor women are guided to WorkFare. The movie almost becomes a commercial for the program. The policy message is that welfare recipients are black women who wish to avoid work, who use their time having sex with their daughters, watching television and dining on pig leavings. They don’t intervene when their boyfriends rape their children (even the grandmother refuses to intervene). Oprah’s attitude toward welfare recipients was described by Pat Gowens, editor of “Mother Warriors Voice.” She said that “Oprah Winfrey” is “someone who reinforces the U.S. war on the poor and unequivocally supports white male supremacy.” She writes about what happened to welfare mothers who were invited to appear on her show after threatening to picket the TV megastar.
For 30 minutes before the show, Oprah’s cheerleader worked the audience into a frenzy of hatred against moms on welfare. When the show started, Welfare Warriors member Linda, an Italian American mom with 3 children, was sandwiched between two women who attacked and pitied her. The African American mom on her right claimed to have overcome her ‘sick dependence on welfare’ and bragged about cheating on welfare and allegedly living like a queen. The white woman on her left was not a mom but had once received food stamps. Both women aggressively condemned Linda for receiving welfare. Throughout the show Oprah alternated between attacking Linda and allowing panel and audience members to attack her. Poor Linda had been prepared to discuss the economic realities of mother work, the failures of both the U.S. workforce and the child support system, and the Welfare Warriors’ mission to create a Government Guaranteed Child Support program (Family Allowance) like those in Europe. But instead Linda was forced to defend her entire life, while Oprah repeatedly demanded, ‘How long have you been on welfare?’
Later we complained to Oprah and her producer about the false promises they had used to lure us onto the show. (We had engaged in extensive negotiations prior to agreeing to appear. We said yes only after they agreed to discuss welfare reform, not our personal lives.) The producer shoved an Oprah cup (our pay) into our hands and pushed us out the door, angrily denying their treachery.
By the time we arrived home, we had received calls from moms on both coasts warning us about the promos Oprah was using to advertise her show: ‘They call themselves welfare warriors and they refuse to work. See Oprah at 4:00.’
Well, as my great grandmother often said, “If you dig a ditch for someone, dig two.” Kitty Kelley, winner of a PEN Oakland Award for censorship has an Oprah biography due from Crown. This might be Oprah’s ditch. The publication of this book is the real reason why Oprah is quitting her show. Kelley has never been sued for libel and her book about the Bush family was so hot ( and useful) that the Bush Klan succeeded in shutting it down with the help of Bush 1st’s golf caddy, NBC’s Matt Lauer. Editors of The New York Times Magazine section hold the same position about welfare recipients as Oprah.
I stopped reading The New York Times Magazine years ago weary of its parade of flesh eating black cannibals, lazy and shiftless welfare mothers. (The Times’ coverage of Africa could be written by Edgar Rice Burroughs.) It is a section of the newspaper where Daniel Moynihan is treated as some kind of Celtic god. This is the guy who accused unmarried black mothers of “speciation.”
Ishmael Reed is an award-winning novelist, author & essayist. He was born in Tennesse & raised in Buffalo NY and is a former journalist for the Buffalo Challenger. His next book “Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media: the Return of the Nigger Breakers” will be published in the Spring by Baraka publishers of Quebec. He is the editor of Konch. He can be reached at: